It has not been a banner season for the Washington Wizards.
Indeed, they've been outscored by an average of more than five points per game, the fifth-worst mark in the NBA, to fall near the bottom of the overall standings at 7-12 entering Monday's clash with the Rockets.
As if that wasn't bad enough, their misery has been compounded by a seemingly endless stream of negative news, with reports of infighting, caustic chemistry and trade demands.
The Wizards got punched in the mouth yet again on Monday courtesy of a monster upper cut from James Harden and the Rockets.
But instead of folding, they slugged back -- and won.
Overcoming an early 17-point deficit and a combined 90 points from Houston's starting backcourt, including Harden's 54, the Wizards clawed back, forced overtime and endured for a 135-131 victory.
The game featured 13 ties, 10 lead changes and four players scoring at least 32 points. In addition to Harden's outburst -- he added 13 assists, marking the fifth 50-10 of his career -- Rockets guard Eric Gordon went off for 36 points, while John Wall and Bradley Beal countered with 36 and 32, respectively.
It marked the Wizards' third win in four games, a modest but much-needed lifeline as they battle to turn their wayward season around.
"I think we all just started focusing on what we did two or three years ago, not worrying about the shot and just trying to lock in on the defensive end ," said Wall, who also had 11 assists. "Guys are having a lot of fun right now, and that's how we have to play for the rest of the year if we're going to be a good team in the East."
Harden and Gordon's 90 points marked the second-highest combined total for a starting backcourt in NBA history. Given the lack of balance from the record holder, it might be even more impressive.
James Harden (54) and Eric Gordon (36) combined for 90 points, the 2nd-most by a starting backcourt since starts were first recorded (via @EliasSports).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 27, 2018
The most? 94 by Kobe Bryant (81) and Smush Parker (13). pic.twitter.com/79vPlwK0nh
The thriller in D.C. overshadowed an equally entertaining game in Charlotte, where the Hornets held off the Bucks 110-107.
The details reveal a truly crazy contest:
* The Bucks led 28-14 after just six minutes, with makes on 10 of their first 12 shots and seven 3-pointers.
* Roughly two quarters later, the Hornets were up 25 courtesy of an epic 63-24 surge.
* The Bucks fought back, climbing within one with 15 seconds left before Eric Bledsoe missed a desperation 3 at the buzzer.
"This team is very resilient," said Tony Parker, who scored 15 points off the bench. "We keep fighting, keep fighting. It doesn't matter how we do it, that was a huge win for us, especially after the poor performance (against the Hawks on Sunday)."
While it wasn't enough to outduel Kevin Durant or stave off a second-half collapse to the Warriors, Magic center Nikola Vucevic turned in another dominant performance in what is turning out to be by far the best season in one of the more underrated careers in recent NBA history.
A day after dominating the Lakers, Vucevic followed up with 30 points, 12 rebounds and six assists against the Warriors -- the second time he reached those figures in two games after doing so just once in his previous 475. He scored or assisted on the Magic's final 10 points, nearly delivering an impressive bookend to their triumph at Staples Center before Durant (49 points, including 10 in the final 2:53) denied them.
Vucevic entered the contest averaging a career-high 20.4 points and 11.3 rebounds with a 26.4 Player Efficiency Rating (another career best). It shouldn't come as much surprise that Vucevic is doing all this with his contract set to expire. But neither should it come as much surprise that he's playing at a high level, if perhaps not this high, given that he's been a dependable double-double machine for seven seasons now. (Seriously, look it up.)
Keep it up, and he just might be rewarded with his first All-Star berth -- not to mention a very lucrative new contract in the offseason.
There's rim protection, and then there's this:
Yeah, but did he call shot clock?
Great minds think alike:
Synchronized sportsmanship 😄 pic.twitter.com/ObVgH28Tti— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 27, 2018
We know exactly what you mean, Jeremy...